In my former life, I was a teacher. I spent six years in inner-city schools, two of them as a reading teacher. I distinctly remember the day six-year-old Antonio came in for his reading lesson and told me his mother had been stabbed by her boyfriend the night before. He said, “I didn’t know what to do, so I got my brother and hid behind the couch.” His mom was taken to the local ER, and a neighbor rescued both Antonio and his brother. Sadly, Antonio’s experience was not unique. Many of the children I worked with experienced life in a way I could only imagine. I often wondered, “Is what I am doing making a difference? Will they be able to escape this lifestyle?”
I came to the conclusion that my role was important. By teaching those children to read, I helped them to acquire a skill that they would need in order to choose a better life for themselves. Will some of them still end up in gangs or with other serious problems? I’m sure they will. But with an education, they have a chance. They have hope.
Because of my experiences as a teacher, Greg Mortenson’s story touched my heart. In 1994, Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the second-highest mountain peak in the world. As he descended, he accidentally separated from his group. He ended up in the village of Korphe, in the northeast corner of Pakistan, where the villagers cared for him until he was able to continue his journey home. When Greg left the village, he made a promise to his new friends: he would return and build them a school.
Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson’s journey to build the village of Korphe a school. While building this school, Greg found a mission for his life. He has now helped to build more than 70 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and he has worked to provide scholarships for secondary education, to develop centers for women, and to educate the people about better health practices.
After the events of September 11, Greg’s passion increased. Because the governments of most Central-Asian countries do not provide schools for all children, particularly in rural areas, radical Islamic groups are building madrassas. In these madrassas, children are taught very little reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead, they are drilled in jihad and hatred toward the west.
According to Three Cups of Tea’s co-author David Relin:
Slamming over the so-called Karakoram “Highway” in his old Land Cruiser, taking great personal risks to seed the region that gave birth to the Taliban with schools, Mortenson goes to war with the root causes of terror every time he offers a student a chance to receive a balanced education, rather than attend an extremist madrassa.
Bashir Baz, a brigadier general in Pakistan, says much the same:
The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.
Although this book seemed long (the writing is overly descriptive at times), and there are touchy political issues involved, this is truly an inspiring story. I believe in the importance of education, and I admire Greg Mortenson and his fight for the world’s children, particularly the girls of Central Asia who have never had the opportunity to attend school. Before 9/11, I can’t say that I ever gave much thought to the people in that part of the world, but I am glad that Greg Mortenson did, especially since he is making a true difference in the lives of so many.
Why does Greg Mortenson do this? In his own words:
What motivates me to do this? The answer is simple: When I look into the eyes of the children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I see my own children’s eyes full of wonder — and I hope that we will each do our part to leave them all a legacy of peace instead of the perpetual cycle of violence, war, terrorism, racism, and bigotry that we adults have yet to conquer.
I doubt I will ever visit these countries or see the children affected by Greg Mortenson’s determined efforts, but as a mother who dreams big dreams for her own children, I am thankful for the lesson that this book offers. One person can make difference. I encourage you to read Three Cups of Tea. I am sure you will be inspired too.